After blinking several times, as if my eyes are broken, my brain finally catches up with the situation. My gaze narrows while I step towards Marty with malice in my eyes. Too many emotions clash together too fast. I can’t fathom what he’s done, what it means. My hands want to ball up into fists and find his face for ruining the fragile relationship we had left. I need him, and he goes and does something like this. Marty’s friendship is important to me and the guy’s flushed it away like a goddamn goldfish. Add to that the issues I’m having with Miss Black and my mind shorts out. There’s a big spray of mental sparks before my vision turns red.

Marty’s confident expression washes away. The smug smile on his face is gone as he steps back, holding up his hands—palms toward me—in a classic don’t-kill-me pose. “Avery, wait a second—”

“How could you?” I jam my finger into his chest as I advance. The door clicks shut behind me after I step into the room.

Marty’s voice is nearly shrill. It has that freaked out airy sound that people have when they’re about to get a stiletto shoved up their ass. “I didn’t! It’s not what you think. Give me a chance—”

“I already gave you another chance. I already did this with you! You couldn’t just leave it alone! You couldn’t just—” An aggravated sound tears from the back of my throat as my palms slam down on his chest as hard as possible. My hands go flying, smacking and punching, without thought. I hate that he did this. I hate his stupid stringy tie and dumbass cowboy hat. I rip the hat off his head and throw it to the ground before snatching the bolo from his neck.

“Avery! Listen to me!” He has that nervous laugh he gets when something goes horribly wrong. Pleading, he smiles at me, and tries to explain. “You see, there were things, and none of them worked, so I—”

I’m not listening. I swear to God that I try. More than anything, I want this to make sense, but Marty buying me for a night and pretending to be the cowboy client makes me think he had plans to ride me all night. My jaw feels like it’s going to pop out of place, because the muscle is way too tense.

There are moments that make sense when they happen, and it makes perfect sense to me now. I have to punch a card with Black so she doesn’t skin my ass and hang it on her wall, and I have to manage to sleep with a guy—who I thought was my best friend. It’s not a problem. Of course not. “You want me so bad you’d buy me? Well, fine.” I laugh like I belong in a mental institution. My smile is too bright and my voice is too high. Arms spread wide, I say, “Here I am.”

Marty blinks at me. When he opens his mouth again, I don’t want to hear what he wants to say. I advance on him, tugging at his shirt, and ripping the front open. My foot stomps on his hat as I tear the shirt off his body. My foot crushes the felt and Marty stands there appalled.

“I think you have the wrong idea. Hey!” He tries to keep his shirt, but I grab hold of it and tug. Marty is talking, but it sounds like buzzing. This can’t be my life. It can’t be. There are so many things that I’d thought I’d be, so many things I thought I’d do, but none of them included screwing my best friend for cash. I jab, punch, and shove him as I rip his shirt off and toss it to the floor. I hurt so much. Sobs bubble up from my throat in an incoherent rage. “Avery, stop! This isn’t what you think! You’re too upset to see it now, but—” He tries to grab my shoulders, but I twist away.

“You don’t know what you’ve done! Do you know what she’ll do to me if I walk out of here right now? I can’t do this, but I have to.” Tears glitter in my eyes as I start laughing again. I can’t think. I know what I have to do even though I don’t want to. What else is new? I’ve been living a life that I’ve hated for the past few years. What’s another day?

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I can f**k him and leave. That’s what he wants. That’s what he paid for. Do it and leave. The words repeat over and over again, drowning out everything, including Marty’s girly screams and bitchslaps.

Marty is bare-chested, standing in front of me in jeans and boots. His hair is a mess and his eyes flash with fear. He sucks in a jagged breath and works his jaw as his fingers flex at his sides. “This isn’t what you think. If you’d stop—”

I laugh, but it feels like someone drove a lance through the center of my chest. I want to fall face down on the bed and cry until I pass out, but I can’t. There’s no one left to pick up the pieces and I sure as hell won’t let Marty see me fall apart. Looking crazy is fine, but turning into a ball of slobbering snot will never happen.

I snatch at his belt buckle, doing everything in my power to force myself forward. The god-ugly thing is a big piece of brass with a bird on it that connects to a black leather belt. I have to do this, I have no choice. He left me no choice… I’m snapping like a piece of balsa wood. I can’t even form sentences any more. I’m saying things to him, half crying, slapping him and hugging him.

I can’t… I can’t… I can’t…

Pain flashes in his eyes, as he continues to try and talk to me, but his mouth moves and there are no words. My eyes twitch, flicking around the room, on his face and at the door. Gabe is out there, watching, waiting. They’re going to make sure I do it this time. I saw what was done to Henry. I can’t take a beating like that. I’ll end up with broken ribs and more medical bills that I can’t afford.

Every muscle in my body is tense, ready to snap. I want to beat my fists into Marty and scream until I feel better, but nothing will fix this—nothing will make it better. He’s gone too far this time. There’s no way to recover from this, so I’m not showing a shred of mercy. It’s me or Marty, and I’m not going to be the loser again. The past few times he pulled shit like this, I let it roll. The man pretended to be g*y and went lingerie shopping with me. I didn’t drive his jewels into his skull with my knee then, but I should have—and God knows he deserved it.

I tried so hard, so f**king hard, to make things better with him. I spilled my guts and let him get close to me, closer than I should have, and all the time I was thinking that this guy cares about me and wants my friendship, he was just trying to get laid. Fury shines through me like a beacon in the night. I can’t control it. I can’t calm down and I don’t want to. Betrayal looks horrible on me.

“Avery, stop.” He shrieks, as my nails catch the skin on his chest, and he dances away from me. “I’m so sorry, so sorry I did it this way. I shouldn’t have. I know that now. I had no idea you were this far gone—”

He says things, his voice soft and coaxing, but they wash over me. I’m stuck in my head, trying my best to live through another horrible day, forcing up walls wherever I can so I can look at myself in the mirror tomorrow. When I reach for his belt this time, I manage to get the buckle open.

Marty stands there, stunned, with his mouth hanging open, and his eyes go blank like he can’t believe this is really happening. The heavy metal buckle flicks open and falls to the side. When I reach for the button to his jeans, he snaps out of it. Marty’s hands fly to my wrists. He shoves me away, but I won’t stop. I have to finish. I have to do this.

White spots blink like stars in my field of vision as I reach for his waistband again and the room tips sideways. I stumble and blink a few times as a flood of heat hits me hard. It courses through my veins, from my toes to my eyelashes like an inferno.

Instead of swatting me away this time, Marty’s hand darts out and takes hold of my wrist, pulling it high above my head. The motion forces me to stop. My feet are nearly off the ground when he tilts his chin down and breathes in my face. His voice is shaking, and comes out in a register so low that I can feel the force behind each staccato word. “For once in your goddamn life let someone else help you.”

I laugh in his face and swing my other fist at his head, and miss. It’d be comical if I wasn’t half crazed at the moment. “No! Stop lying to me! I can’t take it anymore!” I swing at him again.

Marty effortlessly dodges my fist and I growl in response. My nails are biting into my palms as I plan another swing at his jaw. Marty grits his teeth and hisses at me, “I’m trying to help you. If I’d known you’d go batshit crazy, I would have had Mel here. She’s going to kick my ass when she finds out that I broke you.”

I laugh like I’m ready to mentally crack and take another swing at him. He grabs my fist with his other hand, and pulls me into a bear hug. I can’t move. Tremors burst from inside of me and shake my body, “I can’t do this. I can’t…” I’m sobbing.

He holds me tight and continues to explain. “I know, sweetie. I know how upset you’ve been. I hired you to give you a break and keep you away from a**holes like Henry Thomas. After what happened last weekend, I wanted to buy you some time, so that’s what I did. I bought you tonight. I was trying to help.”

Tilting my head up, I stare at him. Marty releases me and steps away with his back to me and runs his hands through his hair. He’s strong. The muscles are tense beneath his skin, like he’s going to lose it. He steps forward without warning, and slams his knuckles into the wall. The plaster cracks like frozen ice and his fist disappears behind the wallboard.

Marty pulls his fist from the wall and doesn’t look at me. He sits down on the side of the bed with his back to me and lowers his head into his hands.

There’s a long silence and I don’t know what to do. I smooth my dress and take a seat by the little desk in the corner and try to calm down. I don’t know what to do. “Miss Black—” I start to say something but can’t finish. It feels like someone pulled my head off and screwed it back on, but failed to connect my mind. It’s still wandering through a field of haze laced with complete and total despair. I hold my face in my hands and say, “What was I supposed to think, Marty? After everything that happened, what was I—”

There’s a knock on the door that cuts me off. We both glance at it. Marty pads over and looks through the peephole before opening it. A young guy, wearing a hotel uniform, is standing there with a tray. “Your dinner, sir, and the movie you requested.”

Marty nods and points to the desk where I’m sitting. The guy smiles at me and places the tray down. There are two silver domes covering hot food that smells like heaven, along with a movie—my favorite movie—The Last Unicorn.

A lump hardens in my throat as I stare at the DVD. My eyes burn, but I don’t blink. I can’t. I was so wrong, so horribly wrong. Marty didn’t pick up a phone and order this stuff after I got here. He planned it before I came. Everything slams into me and it’s like I’m getting pelted with bricks that won’t stop. By the time Marty signs for the bill and sends the guy away, tears are streaking down my cheeks and my hands are trembling.

I try not to look up, but I have to. When our gazes lock, the only words that want to come from my lips are, “I’m sorry.”